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Practice Management > Building Your Business > Leadership

The High Cost of Not Engaging Employees: Tibergien

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Have you ever been mismanaged? It’s important to reflect on this question because the behaviors we learn from others, including our parents, our teachers and our bosses, often predetermine the way we relate to those we are responsible for leading. When we are blind to how our employees react to us, we may also miss that moment when we are about to lose them.

Many an old-time financial advisor has been heard to comment on their staff, “They should be grateful I’ve given them a job. If they don’t like it here, they can leave.” Others add an emotional spin, “I worked damn hard to build this business up and I did it without complaint. They just have to suck it up if they want to be here. That’s how things get done.”

The workplace has changed, however, and today’s employees have more choices. Expecting them to walk a mile in our shoes is not an inspired way to manage, let alone lead. Most confident young people will not tolerate employers they don’t like, don’t trust or who do not value them. Effective managers prevent employees from reaching the point where they feel that the pain of staying surpasses the fear of leaving.

Talent Supply and Demand

I suppose that if the financial services industry was awash with talented job candidates, we could be more cavalier in recruiting and retaining staff. In reality, the number of financial professionals in all channels has declined significantly since 2008. The 100-plus universities that confer financial planning degrees place most of their students in jobs and say there is a waiting list of offers from prospective employers. It’s true that every growing advisory firm I encounter is hunting for talent.

Recruiting comes with a cost. So does losing a dissatisfied employee. Human resource experts say that it costs somewhere between 150% and 250% of a person’s base compensation to replace them. This calculation includes the need to raise salaries to attract new people, diminished productivity, the learning curve for new staff and, in our business, even lost clients.

What’s the point of being a curmudgeon with your people? How does it help you view people as a cost to be managed rather than an asset on which to get a return? How much effort does it take to show people they are appreciated and valued? Why not use mistakes as teaching moments rather than occasions to punish or rebuke?

Regular performance evaluations provide a chance to reconnect with disaffected employees but they can be too little, too late. Managers commonly use these sessions to deliver a list of improvement points rather than to discuss how things are going. These are lost moments, missed opportunities to discover how you can help your employees feel relevant, enjoy their work and build fulfilling relationships with others in the company.

Even better than these sometimes painful annual performance evaluations, an ongoing discussion of employee activity fosters a more dynamic and satisfying connection. When managers view themselves as coaches rather than scorekeepers, they create sustainable relationships with employees. These relationships build trust. Imagine offering constructive advice on a particular engagement rather than serving an overwhelming laundry list of things to work on.

While we intuitively know that we could catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, management behaviors ingrained over time are as hard to shake as any bad habit. Examine your relationships with key people. Are these employees edging toward the exit or, worse, completely disengaged from your business?

Tension Between Leaders, Employees

Power dynamics between employers and employees often take surprising forms. Employers frequently assume that the first move toward mending a rift lies with the employee. Some go so far as to develop resentment over how much they pay key people. Other bosses act threatened or annoyed when team members assert control of a situation, even though they complain that these same employees are not self-starters or self-sufficient or “entrepreneurial.”

The tension between owners and staff (and even among partners) within some advisory firms mystifies me. It almost seems like those in charge resent the burden, or feel put-upon by those to whom they should be offering wisdom, leadership and guidance. On the other side of the leadership spectrum, I’ve observed firms holding on to people they openly denigrate or clearly don’t trust to do things right (or at least their way).

Recently I read an interesting article by James Faust, a leader in the Mormon (LDS) Church, on the healing power of forgiveness. He wrote, “Most of us need time to work through pain and loss. We can find all manner of reasons for postponing forgiveness. One of these reasons is waiting for the wrongdoers to repent before we forgive them. Yet such a delay causes us to forfeit the peace and happiness that could be ours. The folly of rehashing long-past hurts does not bring happiness. Some hold grudges for a lifetime, unaware that courageously forgiving those who have wronged us is wholesome and therapeutic.”

In this article, Faust also cites Dr. Sidney Simon, an authority on values realization, for his definition of forgiveness: “Forgiveness is freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges, harboring resentments and nursing unhealed wounds. It is rediscovering the strengths we always had and relocating our limitless capacity to understand and accept other people and ourselves.”

These messages contain vital lessons for leaders. People in leadership roles hold the lives and careers of others in our hands. When we view this role as an opportunity to help people thrive, rather than as a necessary evil, it leads to greater fulfillment for all. When I hear managers express disdain or unhappiness about their employees, I wonder if they are “consumed by holding grudges, harboring resentments and nursing unhealed wounds.” Are they manifesting their own insecurities as leaders or suffering from frustration with individuals whom they refuse to manage, lead, coach or terminate?

Trust evolves over time. Rarely does a single event cause a relationship to collapse, though a final straw can break the camel’s back. Leaders must find moments to engage with every employee. Building a respectful and real connection with your employees makes your firm stronger — and can prevent that shocking moment when a key person unexpectedly resigns.

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